Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni revealed that the African National Congress (ANC) wants the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to scrap TV licence fees in favour of a broadcasting household levy.

During a media briefing at the ANC’s National Policy Conference on Sunday, 31 July, she explained that the current TV licence scheme is not working, adding that it impacts the SABC’s survival ability.

Ntshavheni emphasised that she was not speaking as a cabinet minister but as rapporteur for the commission at the conference discussing the issue.

“We want the SABC to be funded from the national fiscus, but [we are] also proposing a broadcasting household levy,” Ntshavheni said.

“Their TV licence arrangement is not working. It’s actually impacting the ability of the SABC to survive.”

She said that the government must strengthen the public broadcaster and the broadcasting sector in South Africa.

“Broadcasting remains a critical player in disseminating information to the public,” she said.

“We need to strengthen the broadcasting sector. In particular, the public broadcaster must be strengthened.”

The ANC’s policy position is in-line with the SABC’s own proposal of a public media levy.

Its implementation would mean South African residents would be billed based on their ability to access public broadcasts, regardless of whether they watch the programming.

In addition to replacing the SABC TV Licence with a public media levy, the public broadcaster has proposed that the dominant pay-TV platform currently MultiChoice must help collect the fee.

MultiChoice and the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse supported a device-independent and technology-neutral media levy.

However, MultiChoice said it must not fall to the SABC’s competitors to collect this levy. It said government must collect the funds like any other tax.

During Sunday’s media briefing, Ntshavheni also highlighted a few of the government’s expectations from the public broadcaster, including:

  • Optimal use of the education channel;
  • Reintroduction of the health channel; and
  • The airing of a South African history channel.

“We want the SABC, and the public broadcaster level, to play a developmental role,” she said.

“We should not be watching other people’s history but our own and also the history of the continent.”

“Also, the children’s channel must be introduced and funded from the national fiscus,” she added.

Ntshavheni specified that the ANC wants the SABC’s commercial wing to be allowed to compete and be regulated according to the same standards to which commercial broadcasters are subjected.

“They must be given that space, and the government has been mandated to finalise the bill that makes that distinction,” she said.

Ntshavheni also reported the policy commission’s belief that the media’s portrayal of the party is unfair and anti-ANC.

“We have noted the anti-ANC sentiment both in the media and in the public discourse, but our view is that the ANC can communicate to its own members and to South Africans despite the media views,” Ntshavheni said.

“Social media platforms are not only available to the media. They’re also available to the ANC.”